The problem with trying to have a happy funeral is, that when someone we love dies, we aren’t happy, we’re sad.

We may have happy memories about the person, and there may be a part of us that’s happy because they’re no longer suffering or in pain, so there can be parts of a funeral that have happiness. But when someone we care about dies, the normal and natural human response is grief. We’re sad, and it’s healthy to be sad.

Sometimes when people plan a funeral, they say, “Don’t wear black,” or “Don’t cry,” or “This is only going to be a celebration.” The motivation is good, but this can be a way of unconsciously hoping that if we don’t allow a space for the sadness to flow, there won’t be any sadness. But that’s not how grief works. Grief only resolves itself when it’s allowed to flow and move. When we repress it, and push it down, and deny its presence, it just festers inside us.

A good funeral is designed to allow us to be present to our grief. Of course, they can also include lots of laughter. Funerals can have light, and beauty, and flowers, and all sorts of lovely things as part of them because beauty is part of healing. The goal of a funeral is to allow us to grieve, and to grieve in community. We don’t have any other ceremony in our culture that allows us to be in grief, and to be in grief with other people.

The purpose of a funeral is to allow us to feel our grief, and to allow that grief to move. When we make a rule that only smiles and happiness is allowed, we take away the opportunity that a funeral offers, which is a chance to really be present to how incredibly sad we are that this person we love has died.

It’s only by being present to our grief and honoring it, that we can then allow it to move.

A funeral is not the end of the grieving, a funeral is the beginning. If we set a tone at the funeral that says grief is allowed, grief is natural, grief is normal, and grief is healthy, then we can begin to move through our grief. That’s what allows us to integrate it and to come back again, back to ourselves again.

A grieving process takes us into a deep underworld journey and we can’t skip any part of it. We have to go through it before we come back up. A good funeral is a beautiful service towards that end.